On the eve of the anniversary of Karen's death -- she died on August 12, 2009 -- a look back at the eulogy at her funeral....Read More
On Loving Karen
By Michael Novak at Patheos.com on August 12, 2015
My dear Karen died of a hard-fought cancer on August 12, 2009. I wrote the following verse a few months later. Reprinted from All Nature Is a Sacramental Fire (St. Augustine’s Press, 2011).
* * *
Thank you, lady, for reminding me what it was like To fall in love with Karen Fifty years ago. It was her eyes that did me in, Blue as the sapphire stones She bought along the Indian Ocean. Blue, with sadness deep behind them, And merriment like candle’s flames on golden foil.
Eyes incapable of malice, Radiant from her heart. We talked and talked, newly met, Though we had known Each other ever since forever.
We knew the darkness and the night — That may have been our deepest bond. We weren’t afraid of night. A woman who has suffered much, as Tolstoi wrote, Inflames a lover’s heart.
I cannot say if Karen loved me. That was a word she rationed, As if in uttering it she lost her self – Which fighting to hold safe so many years, Impressionable and unconflictive (As she wished to be) she could not give away.
To say would utterly destroy her, poof! Like dust she’d blow away. No, it was crucial that she act with love But seldom say the word. Crucial that she trust. Crucial to stay the Self She had, so much embattled, won.
But oh! I loved her And loving her burst into joy, An oven suddenly ignited.
Who could not love her shyness, Her evasive smile of pleasure. Her self-dramatizing humor about herself? Her idle dream had been to be an actress A comedienne of dance and music, Light of heart and blithe. What she really wanted Was to be the next Picasso. Kokoschka had told her that she could.
She was self-mockingly insistent That her I married, for her mind, To which I readily agreed Although not wholly true. Yes, Without her darkness of experience, Without her wit, Without her flashes to the heart of things, My soul could not have been so deeply wounded. But I was stricken also by her figure And her shy, shy smile.
Still later, then, her works of art I saw, Which took my breath away. A woman always struggling, Always suffering, Conflicted, active, bold. Uncompromisingly, She stripped away the skin from straining sinews And showed live bones in pain (Or maybe only tension) And underneath each face the mask of death. She saw life truly In its awfulness and joy.
Fiercest angels did she wrestle. “Every angel,” her Rilke wrote, “is terrible.”
Parting (in 1962), I handed her my novel, About a soul stripped down to nothingness Yet rejoicing in the dark (Where alone God can be found). Her favorite books were Avila’s, And The Dark Night of the Soul . Mine, too.
She thought I’d been pretentious, She later wrote, For handing her my book. But she read it on the plane One end to the other. She slyly hinted that she liked it.
So we were free to love like children Who had learned to trust, Yet knew the fingers on the windowpane, In darkness and in rain. We were made to meet. Or so I felt in thirty minutes Across the booth from her in Harvard Square.
Most extraordinary thing: I had described her in my novel Two years before we met. Lovely girl, an artist, Upon Bernini’s bridge at midnight When the Tiber turned to silver Beneath a silver moon.*
So I knew that I had known her And would marry her. Knew, but didn’t say a word. For four days we did nothing But go out together. She was fearless driving Boston streets. That was what convinced me She was tough. More tough than I. Which was in my dream.
I knew I loved her, almost bam! It took her longer: Three close suitors in hot pursuit, Each one aspiring lawyer as if In answer to her lawyer father’s prayers. One did love her mightily, I later learned. Thank God she took a leap toward me.
We were apart all summer, She at the Worcester School of Art, And I in Europe, steadily describing to her All I saw, and quietly insinuating . . . We were meant to meet. A hundred letters sent in all— Desperate to hold her heart.
Just last month, My sister found her photo, Sitting on my parents’ lawn In September, 1962. My brother Dick (whom K. had met at Harvard) Was on his way to Bangladesh, And Karen planned her drive from Iowa To pick me up, both Harvard-bound, To bid dear Dick farewell. (Little did we know it was forever.)
She sits upon the lawn her knees drawn up In short black shorts, a Vee-striped blouse Of orange and brown, and on her head A turban striped the same. A skinny, gawky kid in shell-rimmed glasses Sits as close to her as decency permits. Can that be me? Even then I asked myself, Can this be me? How can that fellow sit with such a one In total inner peace?
Our honeymoon some ten months thence, On Minnesota’s Forest Lake— My beloved walked into the bath, A towel on arm but not a stitch of clothes, And closed the door. Let out a piercing shriek, fell back, Slid downward noisily onto the floor. Had burglers broken in?
Leaping to the door, I saw a bat attacking her. I pulled her out, and stepped inside To face the bat, and illumination struck my mind: “So this is what a married man is for?” Gulping folded up a towel to swing And watched its swoops As closely as a pitcher’s wicked curve When it buzzed in and dove at me. I caught it fairly, brought it down But in the motion felled myself.
Here Karen showed her wit, Broke in, a basket in her hands Which she slapped down upon the now-dazed bat. “How do we get it out of here?” I asked with weak male reason. She answered me with motion, Returning with a cardboard square To slip beneath the basket. Cool as a cop she marched it to the darkened door And flicked it up into the night. What a cool, cool girl, I marvel, Then and now.
She also showed me what a coward I could be When once at dinner little three-year-old Began to choke, in desperation turning red. I froze. Not K. She leapt across the kitchen Plunged her finger down the throat, Pulled out the villainous blob. Not the first or only time She moved with wit and bravery While I sat panicked, turning pale.
St. Thomas (Aquinas) wrote, “Of all friendships, Marriage is by far the greatest.” I used to tell my classes that, And say that it is true. The only thing – I used to warn – is this: If you don’t like the truth about yourself, Then don’t get married. When you live close in, Illusions are expensive. So once the honeymoon is over, Your lover’s duty is To puncture every one of yours — One by painful one. My lover pricked an awful lot of mine. Especially my conceits.
Annoying faults my lover also had, So I did edit them, much to her pain. She had a low opinion of herself, So one more fault was more than she could bear. I added to her pain. I’m sorry that I did.
Oh, Glory! I loved Karen, Love her still. Irradiant soul. Valiant, courageous, strong, Yet soft and vulnerable. Beautiful with full and loving sensual beauty. Funny, amusing, telling tales about herself – Confessing all her silly faults Before I found them out.
She was wonderful to hug. She loved to hug. She needed many hugs – Or maybe I did.
And now she seems so close to me. I commune with her incessantly Since now she sees me even to my inner self. I hear her laughing quite a lot As I go bouncing light to light And wall to wall, a pinball In a slanted box. She enjoys My blunders. Always has.
It seems she has told everyone (Before she died) I worried her— “He doesn’t know a thing around the house. “He cannot do it for himself.” It isn’t true, of course. I do okay. But in an obvious sense, b’god, The girl was right.
There is no other like her. She is unique. I was lucky, lucky, lucky, To be with her for nearly fifty years. That is why I look at photos, Read old letters, and let the burning Burn my soul.
________________________________ [* I here compress the actual plot.]
Seana Sugrue is 1st Laub Novak Award Winner This Year
Published in The Ave Maria Herald on Saturday, January 17, 2015
Dr. Seana Sugrue, a professor of politics at Ave Maria University, has been named as 2015's first recipient of the Laub Novak Award for excellence in teaching.
The award is a private initiative of author Michael Novak and is named for Mr. Novak's late wife, the artist Karen Laub Novak.
Dr. Sugrue is one of Ave Maria University's longest-serving faculty members and teaches courses in politics, government and history. The award ceremony will take place at the private dining room of the AMU student union at 7 p.m. Jan. 30. There will be classical entertainment and light refreshments will be included, along with encomiums of Dr. Sugrue by students. Students, colleagues and town residents are welcome to attend the ceremony.
Three other recipients of the award have also been announced: Dr. Andrew Dinan (Classics), Dr. Catherine Pakaluk (Economics) and Dr. Blanford Parker (Literature). Awards carry with them a $1,000 prize.
PHOTO: Michael Novak is pictured with Dr. McDonnell and his wife, Maria. (photo by Katie Miller)
Ave Maria University music department chair Timothy McDonnell was praised by fellow students and by noted author Michael Novak Wednesday night as he was presented with the third Laub-Novak award for excellence in teaching in the humanities.
"Dr. McDonnell may be the single best ambassador of the university, taking his artists to the Naples Philharmonic and the schools and churches of the larger Naples community," said Mr. Novak in presenting the award named for his late wife, the artist Karen Laub-Novak. "His insistence on excellence is obvious to all who are thrilled by the many musical events presented throughout the year. How can we thank him enough for helping to make Ave Maria a home for beauty, a place in which artistic expression, creativity, and mastery thrive" (pictured, Dr. McDonnell at right with his wife, Maria, and Mr. Novak - photo by Katie Miller)
Dr. McDonnell's accomplishments directing the Ave Maria University chorus was cited by Myra Daniels as a major factor in her decision to help raise money for a new performing arts center on the AMU campus.
As with the previous Laub-Novak award presentations, tributes from current and former students were read and the gathering was treated to performances from some of them.
"On the whole, Dr. McDonnell's contribution to the life of AMU is, frankly, immeasurable," wrote one student, "but for me his gifts to the community were those evenings of festivity, liturgy, reverence, and sheer beauty. It was the beauty of the many facets of what Ave Maria University strives to be, unified in a single moment that turned and unfolded time- a terrible and wonderful thing to behold which each time left me moved, chastised, and consoled."
The Laub-Novak award is a private initiative of Mr. Novak's family foundation. The award began this year, with the first presentation to AMU literature professor Michael Raiger and the second to Travis Curtright, AMU's director of Humanities and Liberal Studies and the creator of the popular Shakespeare in Performance course.
For another look at Dr. McDonnel, see Ave Herald Editor Patricia Sette's November, 2012, column in the Naples Daily News Collier Citizen.
Published in The Ave Herald on May 8, 2014
Ash Wednesday by T.S. Eliot
Because I do not hope to turn again Because I do not hope Because I do not hope to turn Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope I no longer strive to strive towards such things (Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)…
The Lady is withdrawn In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown. Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness. There is no life in them. As I am forgotten And would be forgotten, so I would forget Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose.
At the first turning of the second stair I turned and saw below The same shape twisted on the banister Under the vapour in the fetid air Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears The deceitul face of hope and of despair…
…Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind over the third stair, Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair Climbing the third stair.
Redeem The time. Redeem The unread vision in the higher dream While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse…
…Redeem the time, redeem the dream The token of the word unheard, unspoken.
Word is unspoken, unheard; Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard, The Word without a word, the Word within The world and for the world; And the light shone in darkness and Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled About the centre of the silent Word.
Although I do not hope to turn again Although I do not hope Although I do not hope to turn
Wavering between the profit and the loss In this brief transit where the dreams cross The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying…
….And the blind eye creates The empty forms between the ivory gates And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth
This is the time of tension between dying and birth.